Flora Cafaro dies of smoke inhalation in fire at home

BROOKFIELD — The cause of a fire that took the life of a well-known local businesswoman and philanthropist Thursday at her home remains under investigation.

Township fire Chief Keith Barrett said the cause of the blaze that led to Flora Cafaro’s death is still undetermined; however, the Mahoning County Coroner’s Office released smoke inhalation as the cause of her death.

The fire started about 4 p.m. in a bedroom of her home on Stewart Sharon Road in Brookfield. Barrett said firefighters encountered heavy smoke on the first floor of the house, but no flames, and made their way upstairs, where they found Cafaro, 58.

“The fire was contained in the bedroom,” Barrett said. “Ms. Cafaro was found in an adjacent bathroom.”

Cafaro was taken by ambulance to St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, according to information provided by the Cafaro Co.

A news release from the company states the Cafaro family is “heartbroken” over Flora’s death.

“She was a wonderful mother, a businesswoman and a philanthropist. Our family is just devastated by this tragedy,” said Flora’s brother, Anthony Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co.

Brother John J. Cafaro, former Cafaro Co. vice president, added “our family is deeply saddened. Flora was loved by everyone inside and outside our family.”

She first came to the Cafaro Co., family-owned shopping mall and property development company, in the 1970s as an as assistant controller and within a few years, served as vice president and assistant treasurer.

Flora Cafaro was well-known for her philanthropy.

She was recognized at least twice by the American Cancer Society as an “excalibur” donor, which meant she contributed $10,000 or more in a year or $100,000 or more in a lifetime to the society.

At the time of her passing, she was a trustee of the Cafaro Family Foundation, “where she was instrumental in advocating for a number of charities,” according to Joe Bell, Cafaro Co. spokesman. Also, she led the effort to donate $100,000 to the OH Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science and Technology.

In addition, she served as a trustee for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Youngstown and was a member of the board of trustees for the Cleveland Clinic for more than 20 years. And she was also a great benefactor of the Easter Seals Association of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana Counties and for Hospice of the Valley, according to Bell.

“Upon learning of the death of Flora Cafaro. . . Bishop (George ) Murry, along with the priests and the lay faithful extend our deepest sympathy and our prayers of concern for the entire Cafaro family. Her brief life of 58 years touched many individuals and for this, the Diocese of Youngstown is eternally grateful,” said Msgr. John Zuraw, chancellor of the Diocese.

Cafaro, who also was a significant political donor, also became entangled in political corruption cases.

In 2010, she was identified as the provider of an $18,000 no-interest, cash “loan” to former Mahoning Common Pleas Judge Maureen Cronin. Cafaro was never charged, but the ex-judge was sentenced to 27 months in a federal prison, convicted of two felony counts of honest-services mail fraud.

Also that year, Flora Cafaro was charged as part of a 73-count indictment alleging money laundering and linked to Oak Hill Renaissance Center. She was alleged to have given more cash contributions to attorney Martin Yavorcik than the $40,000 he reported. The charges against Flora Cafaro ultimately were dropped.

Flora is survived by her two adult sons, William Cafaro-Ferraro and Jon Cafaro-Ferraro; brothers, Anthony Cafaro, Sr. and John J. Cafaro; and numerous nieces and nephews.  Funeral arrangements are pending.

Reporter Raymond L. Smith contributed to this story.